6 August 2018
Displaced Iraqi Christians are struggling to rebuild, exactly four years after ISIS first swept through their country. This video, from last fall, shows some of what they are facing as they return home. (video: Raed Rafei/CNEWA)
Exactly four years ago — 6 August 2014 — ISIS began its assault on the Nineveh Plain, and thousands of Iraqi Christians began to run for their lives.
Al Jazeera takes note:
Displaced by the expansion of Islamic State (ISIS) — which rapidly overran vast territories in Iraq, eventually seizing one-third of the country in 2014—Christian families left their homes in the ancient Assyrian towns of Nineveh province to resettle in Erbil and the capital, Baghdad.
Samir Petrus, 50, who left Hamdaniya [also known as Qaraqosh], a district located on the outskirts of Mosul, where the majority of the Iraqi Christian community are Chaldo-Assyrians, says he will never return to Nineveh.
“There’s nothing for me to go back to. No jobs, no home, let alone safety and security,” says Petrus, who now lives at an IDP camp in Baghdad. “I’m here now with my girls and I have to look ahead.”
ISIS targeted minorities of the Nineveh plains when it stormed northern Iraq, taking over Mosul in 2014. Although other communities in Mosul hope to go home again, Christian and Yazidi minorities say they’ve endured enough persecution and refuse to return, even if ISIS has been defeated.
CNEWA has been on the ground and on the front lines of helping displaced Iraqi Christians since Day One — and we have been chronicling their story in our magazine, along with the story of the long road back to a life resembling normal. Last fall, in the pages of ONE magazine we described the Hard Choices many are facing:
A recent comprehensive survey carried out by church authorities indicates that of the 6,826 housing units in Qaraqosh, about a third are severely damaged or burned, with some two-thirds sustaining partial damage. Almost 100 homes are completely destroyed and beyond repair.
Despite some shy rebuilding efforts by churches and homeowners, the estimated $70 million needed for the overall reconstruction of Qaraqosh still looms large. According to Father Jahola, several organizations have pledged to help with large finances, but substantial aid has not materialized yet.
The condition of Qaraqosh is not very different from that of most Christian towns in the Nineveh Plain, which typically report damage to 30 to 40 percent of structures — houses, schools, public institutions, churches, monasteries and hospitals alike.
But some towns, such as Batnaya, have been rendered completely uninhabitable, reporting 85 percent of buildings demolished under heavy aerial bombardment.
The total cost for the reconstruction of the Nineveh Plain, estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars — if not billions — will require a significant mobilization of aid by foreign governments and international charities.
This past spring, the new superior general of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, Sister Clara Nancy, wrote to us a Letter from Iraq, describing how the people — and the sisters serving them — are surviving on a resolute mixture of fortitude and faith:
We want and need to be with our people. We want to return with them to serve them.
And so we visit families in their homes. We lead youth groups and offer activities and lectures to help them understand themselves and their faith, sharing Bible stories when possible and catechesis for children. We understand these activities are modest — and that they are unable to heal them as a whole — but our efforts may be a balm to sooth their pain.
Life is so hectic in our area; our challenges look overwhelming. Therefore, we encourage people to go beyond their difficulties, and place them in a different context. We try to help them look into things through the eyes of faith. It is easy for people to feel depressed and live as passive victims. So, our aim is to help them live their faith as people who trust God and his providence. We are not the only ones who have lived this reality: The Bible tells us about those who had very similar experiences and yet they knew how to overcome their situation with hearts full of faith in the Lord.
It is hard to know what the future holds for our community. Displacement and immigration left young women unable to form a clear vision about their future. So, fostering vocations has been difficult when life is so unsettled. However, there are a few girls who are considering joining with us in serving the Lord as sisters. We are thinking of organizing a program for them to prepare them and introduce them to religious life.
We sisters have our own struggles, of course. We have asked different speakers to help us cope with the situation, spiritually and psychologically. We are grateful to all those who have risked their lives and have come to show solidarity and offer their knowledge.
Deep down, we believe our main help is the Risen Lord around whom we gather in every Eucharist. This unites us with the Christ and enables us to endure. Sharing with one another our difficulties gives us the opportunity to reflect and support one another. We have lost much, but we still have each other. And that is of great help.
Read more of Sister Clara’s letter here.
This day, in particular, please keep all our suffering brothers and sisters in the Middle East in your prayers. Their struggle is far from over — and they need your help, now more than ever. CNEWA continues to accompany them, support them, encourage them and stand with them during this difficult time. We invite you to stand with us—and with them. If you’d like to do more for those trying to rebuild in Iraq, visit this page to learn how you can help.
6 August 2018
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians ISIS Dominican Sisters
As summer temperatures climb, young people in Israel play in a water fountain on 3 August near the Old City of Jerusalem. (photo: CNS/Abir Sultan, EPA)
6 August 2018
A panel of clergy and lay people announced the launch of India's SAFBIN project, designed to improve food security in Asia. (photo: Vatican News)
Damascus creates body to repatriate Syrian refugees (AFP) Syria’s government is to set up a coordination committee to repatriate millions of its nationals who fled the country’s seven-year conflict, state media has said. The cabinet Sunday “agreed to create a coordination body for the return of those displaced abroad to their cities and villages,” state news agency SANA reported…
Over 400 people interrogated in connection with murder of Coptic bishop (Fides) Over 400 people were interrogated by the Egyptian judicial authorities of the Wadi Natrun region, as part of the investigation into the murder of Coptic Orthodox bishop Epiphanius, abbot of Saint Macarius monastery, who was killed on Sunday 29 July. In addition to the monks, police detectives will also interrogate workers, farmers and people who habitually frequented the monastery. But so far — specify the official sources of the Coptic Orthodox Church, consulted by Agenzia Fides — no person at the moment is believed to be responsible for the heinous murder of Anba Epiphanios…
Caritas India launches agricultural project to improve food security (Vatican News) Caritas India, the social arm of the Catholic Church in India has launched an agricultural project to help improve the food and nutritional security of small farmers across South Asia. Called the Smallholder Adaptive Farming and Biodiversity Network or SAFBIN, the initiative is being backed by Caritas Austria and Caritas Switzerland…
Canadians open their arms to refugees (Vatican News) n the first half of 2018, nearly 26,000 migrants sought asylum in Canada. Nearly 11,000 of these were illegal or “irregular” border crossers, of which a vast majority entered Canada through Quebec. Elana Wright, Advocacy and Research Officer of Development and Peace at Caritas Canada, spoke to Vatican News’ Timothée Dhellammes about Canadians’ openness to welcoming asylum seekers…
UN scales up humanitarian efforts in Ethiopia (UN.org) To address the urgent needs of more than a million displaced by inter-communal violence in southwestern Ethiopia over the past four months, UN humanitarian agencies and their partners are ramping up their efforts, providing among other things shelter, household items, water and sanitation, and food to the most vulnerable…
3 August 2018
Tags: Syria India Ethiopia Refugees
In this image from June, people walk toward the last Syrian government checkpoint while waiting for permission to leave the besieged section of Damascus. The Syrian ambassador to Lebanon has called for more refugees to return to their homeland. (photo: CNS/Omar Sanadiki, Reuters)
Syrian ambassador calls for refugees to return (The National) Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon has called for Syrian refugees to return home and for the countries hosting them to ease the transition. Ali Abdul Karim told Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil during a meeting on Thursday that certain agreements were being followed up on to help Syrian refugees return, according to a statement released by the minister’s office…
Netanyahu cancels trip abroad as possible Hamas-Israel cease fire deal emerges (The Los Angeles Times) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday abruptly canceled an official visit to Central and South America as a possible agreement to halt the violence and ease tensions along its border with the Gaza Strip appeared to be emerging. In a statement, an Israeli government official said the trip, during which Netanyahu was scheduled to meet with the presidents of Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Guatemala and Honduras, was being canceled “due to the situation in the south…”
Bishops’ event in India focuses on divisive politics (UCANews.com) A Catholic Church-organized program in New Delhi has called on Indian politicians to cease being divisive and using religion as a way of attracting votes. Prominent opposition leader Mamta Banerjee was among several speakers voicing concerns over the divisions in Indian society during an assembly organized by the Indian Catholic bishops’ conference on 31 July…
Report: Syrian group recruiting children from camps (Human Rights Watch) The People’s Protection Units (YPG), the largest member of the Syrian Democratic Forces military alliance in northeast Syria, has been recruiting children, including girls, and using some in hostilities despite pledges to stop the practice, Human Rights Watch said today…
Has peace finally arrived for Ethiopia and Eritrea? (The New Yorker) The timing of the peace deal was sudden: within a matter of weeks, and after two decades of hostility, the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea signed an agreement, on 9 July to restore diplomatic relations, reopen embassies in Addis Ababa and Asmara, and resume flights between the two countries. The Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, and the Eritrean President, Isaias Afwerki, both said they hoped for an end to a state of war that has dragged on between the two nations since Eritrea achieved independence from Ethiopia, after a thirty-year struggle, in 1993. More than 80,000 people have died in the conflict, and the United Nations has imposed an arms embargo on Eritrea, citing its border disputes with neighboring countries…
2 August 2018
Tags: Syria India Israel
The Adi-Harush refugee camp shelters some 12,000 people. Learn how they are patiently waiting for a better future — and how the church is trying to give them hope — in This, Our Exile in the June 2018 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
2 August 2018
Men in India gathered recently to protest the draft list which has rendered some four million people without citizenship in northern India. (photo: Vatican News/AFP)
Israel claims Syrian civil war is effectively over (CNBC) Israel claimed Syria’s long-running civil war had effectively come to an end Thursday and predicted the Golan Heights frontier between the two countries would be much quieter over the coming months. Syrian President Bashar Assad has sought to restore central rule in several southwestern areas of the country in recent weeks, with a particular focus on reclaiming Golan Heights — an area of strategic and political significance for both Damascus and Jerusalem…
Israel halts fuel supplies to Gaza (AP) Despite renewed cease-fire efforts, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced that, starting Thursday, he is halting shipments of fuel and natural gas to Gaza in response to incendiary balloons that have targeted southern Israel. Israel also suspended fuel shipments to Gaza temporarily in July for similar reasons…
India renders four million people without citizenship (Vatican News) In a bid to identify illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, the Indian government released a draft list on Monday which has rendered about four million people without citizenship in the north-eastern state of Assam. Hundreds of thousands of people fled to India from Muslim-majority Bangladesh during its 1971 war of independence, settling down mostly in Assam and West Bengal…
Bishop Olmsted named apostolic administrator of Byzantine eparchy (CNS) Latin-rite Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix has been appointed apostolic administrator of a Byzantine Ruthenian eparchy also based in Phoenix, the Holy Protection of Mary Byzantine Catholic Eparchy. The appointment by Pope Francis was announced on 1 August in Washington by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Vatican nuncio to the United States…
Pope revises catechism to say death penalty ’inadmissible’ (CNS) Building on the development of Catholic Church teaching against capital punishment, Pope Francis has ordered a revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to assert “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” and to commit the church to working toward its abolition worldwide…
1 August 2018
Tags: Syria India Pope Francis Gaza Strip/West Bank
CNEWA's president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, visits the Home of Faith in Kerala, India, which cares for children with disabilities. Read Msgr. Kozar’s reflections on how CNEWA evangelizes in the June 2018 edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)
1 August 2018
In the video above, Cardinal Edwin O’Brien expresses his concern over a new law he says limits the rights of non Jews. (video: Rome Reports/YouTube)
Cardinal expresses concerns over new law that grants exclusive rights to Jews in Israel (Rome Reports) Israel has passed a law that affords exclusive rights to Jewish people and removes Arabic as an official language. There are 1.8 million Arabs in Israel, which account for 20% of the total population. Israel’s new law has led to further fears of discrimination towards Arab minorities, with many Israeli neighborhoods and towns already effectively being segregated making it tough for an Arab to move in. According to Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, this new law has taken away full equality for non Jews…
Syria says road to Jordan crossing is ready (Reuters) The road to Syria’s border crossing with Jordan, closed by conflict in 2011, is ready for use and Damascus is looking at prospects of reopening it after recovering the border from rebels, the Syrian transport minister said…
Palestinian muftis bar participation in Jerusalem elections (Haaretz) The council of Palestinian muftis has issued a religious ruling barring Muslim residents of Jerusalem from participating in the city’s municipal elections this fall, either by running for office or by voting. In a statement issued on Monday, the council accused Israel of never ceasing its attempts to subdue the city’s Palestinian residents in various ways ever since it gained control of East Jerusalem in 1967…
Starvation deaths haunt India (UCANews.com) Increasing starvation deaths in India show the failure of state and federal governments to implement welfare measures and enforce a law that ensures the right to food, say church leaders and activists. The recent deaths of three children, all aged below nine, in New Delhi have brought to the fore the plight of nearly 191 million Indians who go to sleep on empty stomachs despite economic growth…
Indian tourism department to launch microsite on Christianity (Times of India) State tourism department, in a couple of weeks, will launch a microsite on Christianity in Kerala to lure more international travelers, especially religious scholars, historians and pilgrims…
31 July 2018
Tags: Syria India Jerusalem
Svetlana Hovhannisyan lives in a cabin outside of Gyumri with her five sons. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
In the current edition of ONE, journalist Gayane Abrahamyan how some families are struggling to care for children with disabilities in Armenia—and how a CNEWA-supported facility is giving many a new sense of purpose and hope:
For 15-year-old Artyom Hovhannisyan, every movement is a victory. Confined to a wheelchair in a city without ramps, the boy depends on his mother to carry him from place to place. Even at home, he has very limited space to maneuver; in fact, their dwelling barely warrants “home.”
Artyom’s mother, Svetlana, rears her five sons alone in a wooden cabin — a temporary structure erected following the devastating earthquake of December 1988. What was to be temporary, however, has become permanent, and stands badly in need of repair. The floor and ceiling have been rotting for years. Holes in the faded walls have been papered over with the boys’ drawings, diplomas and various certificates.
When she smiles, the lines on her face reveal years of concerns — years spent tending a small plot of land to try and feed her children while living on a monthly pension of about $90.
Around her cabin, about six miles from Gyumri, the second-largest city in Armenia after its capital of Yerevan, temporary settlements dot the landscape — a collection of small iron and wooden buildings erected nearly 30 years ago to shelter the suddenly homeless. Over the years, their inhabitants have left the settlement, moving to new buildings in the city. Now, only Ms. Hovhannisyan and her five sons remain. The eldest, 18 years old, will soon leave to join the army, adding another source of concern as Armenia’s army remains on guard.
But for now, Ms. Hovhannisyan finds solace and a sense of order by tending the earth. She has cleaned the stones from the garden and neatly organized them near a fence. She has planted trees, tilled the soil and sowed flowers.
“I am not afraid of work,” she says. “I will do everything. But when my eldest son will be called to the army, I don’t know what I’m going to do, because he is my only help with Artyom.”
She also receives tremendous help and support from the Emili Aregak Center, which helps care for her son.
Inside the glass-covered building, everybody is busy — they sing in one of the rooms, play in another, do exercises in a third, hold discussions in the fourth. Alive and vibrant, this unique space offers children and young adults with special needs and physical challenges room to move and room to live with sun and space in abundance.
“Everything is interesting here,” Artyom says happily. “I have participated in pottery classes. I have many good friends who help me.”
The center has changed Artyom’s life. The view beyond his window is now wider, brighter and full of hope.
“It is so good here. Everyone is joyful, everyone is nice and I love them a lot.”
Read about how the center has become A Source of Light to so many in the June 2018 edition of ONE.
31 July 2018
A flooded house is seen in the Kottayam district of India's Kerala state, where torrential rains have inundated hundreds of villages and displaced at least 100,000 people. (photo: UCANews/IANS)
Church helps victims as floods batter India (UCANews.com) Unusually long and heavy monsoon rains have inundated several parts of India and claimed at least 537 lives as church agencies and others reach out to help some two million people affected by floods. The Federal National Emergency Response Centre has recorded floods in six states after the monsoon began in Kerala in the south in early June. Teams of church people are working to provide immediate relief to flood-affected people, said Anjan Bag, who manages disaster intervention at Caritas India…
Druze women, children reportedly abducted by ISIS in Syria (Vatican News) Reports from Syria suggest that at least 36 women and children were abducted when the militant group attacked their villages in Sweida, a province in the south, last week. A few women have since managed to escape, but further details are unknown…
Doctor describes challenges Syrian refugees face in Jordan and Lebanon (WBUR/Public Radio) Millions of people have fled Syria since the civil war started there in 2011. Millions more are internally displaced. Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti speaks with Dr. Zaher Sahloul, president and co-founder of MedGlobal, a relief organization that has been working in refugee camps in the region…
‘The city of my birth in India is becoming a climate casualty…’ (The New York Times) I spent the first seven years of my life in this delta city, close to where the Ganges pours into the sea. In my memory, it was a city of steam and sweat, rice and fish, of languid, muggy afternoons. A city of water. Lots and lots of water. On this trip, in the era of global warming, I found a city at profound risk...
Hairdressing school gives Syrian refugees in Lebanon dream of independence (Reuters) Around 20 Syrian and Lebanese girls and women will study hairdressing for six months under the L’Oreal Foundation’s Beauty for a Better Life program, earning an internationally recognized certificate if they are successful…
Tags: Syria India Refugees